Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
Book One takes eleven-year-old Francie Nolan through a Saturday. I loved her, and I never stopped for the rest of the novel, even though nothing that followed was as good as the beginning. This story comes direct from the heart, a precious quality that can negate any weaknesses. Smith doesn’t write with a lot of sophistication, but so what? I believed in Francie and her family and the Irish immigrant neighborhood she lived in, and I was glad that I shared her life. *

Fielding Grey - Simon Raven
This book started to repel me. Raven is a good writer – his prose is interesting and fluid, and he moves the action along. The main character was supposed to be unattractive. But I felt I was being manipulated by an author with cheap intentions. The sex, which started out as homosexual and then shifted to heterosexual, became increasingly sordid, and I had enough.

The Treasure of Sierra Madre - B. Traven
Traven takes on big issues and frames them in simple plots, using elemental characters and stripping his prose of any embellishment. In this book he succeeds in making his point: the effects of greed attain an allegorical force. However, there are a few aspects that detract. The dialogue is stilted and scenes go on too long. Lastly, good as this book is, the movie was better; also, from the movie I knew everything that was going to happen, so the power of surprise was missing. (Interestingly, it was Traven who came up with the immortal words “Badges? I don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”)

A Book of Common Prayer - Joan Didion
By the halfway point this novel became a joke, with its pretentiousness and stylistic effects. Didion repeatedly ends a section with a short, deflating sentence, often framing it as a question (though without a question mark), and sometimes lining up a whole bunch of these little sentences. Here are three closing lines: “Unless the delusion was mine.” “As do earthquakes.” “Then why is it in my mind when nothing else is.” Don’t you love it? Also, she writes about sophisticates and their sophisticated sensibilities, but she sprinkles in grotesqueries with a casual attitude – because, don’t you know, real sophisticates have seen it all. The pretentiousness extends to the back cover, where the author stares out, a wide-eyed waif ravaged by the Truths she’s seen.

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